By Bullion Shark LLC ……
Numismatists, coin dealers, and collectors of the American Silver Eagle bullion coin series have long had a suspicion that the coins were struck at multiple branch mints of the United States Mint.
In the early 2000s when demand for these coins was surging, the Mint decided to expand its production of the coins at the West Point Mint by making additional coins at the San Francisco Mint. The green monster boxes for coins struck from 2011 to 2014 had straps on them that indicated they were produced in San Francisco, and many of those coins were sent to the grading services in sealed monster boxes with the straps. That allowed NGC and PCGS to label them as, for example, 2011 (S), which means there is no mint mark on the coins, but we know they were made there.
Then, in early 2017, our whole understanding of which mints made the bullion issues changed when the Mint revealed that the coins had been struck at all three branch mints (West Point, San Francisco, and Philadelphia) at different points in the history of this coin and far before we previously thought.
Thanks to multiple Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests from a California dealer and Coin World’s Paul Gilkes, we now know where Silver Eagle bullion coins were struck for the entire period from 1986 to 2017. And thanks to FOIA requests filed by NGC and the expertise of their graders, who long suspected multiple mints were involved from small variations in the monster boxes and quality of the coins, they are able to identify the mint that made the coins from the serial numbers on sealed monster boxes and other factors.
A major revelation from this work that occurred in 2020 is that the coins from 1986 and 1987, which we previously thought had been produced at West Point entirely, were actually produced instead at the San Francisco Mint. Then, in 1988, about 85%, or 4,249,646 coins were made there, plus another 755,000 at West Point. And that pattern continued through 1998, with production split between those two mints, with the larger share having been produced at West Point.
Keep in mind that, prior to 1998, West Point was considered a silver bullion depository rather than a branch mint, and San Francisco was still designated as an assay office. It was thanks to Public Law 100-274 that both locations received full branch mint status.
From 1999 through 2010, all bullion coins were produced at the West Point Mint exclusively, according to the information provided by the U.S. Mint in response to those FOIA requests.
Then from 2011 to 2014, production was split between West Point and San Francisco until 2015, when almost all the coins were made that year at West Point plus a small run of 79,500 at the Philadelphia Mint. The information on production from 2014 to 2017 was received thanks to another FOIA request by Coin World and NGC.
We also learned that, in 2016, 31,900,000 coins were made at West Point, 4,650,000 at San Francisco, and 1,151,500 at Philadelphia. Then, in 2017, by which time demand for the coins had decreased in response to rising silver prices, 13,065,500 were made at West Point, three million at San Francisco, and one million in Philadelphia.
In addition, on the monster boxes for this period (2014-2017), coins made at West Point had either six-digit serial numbers on them starting with 1,2 or 3, or five-digit numbers that started with the prefix “WP”.
Coins struck at the San Francisco Mint in 2014 had red-colored straps on the monster boxes and coins from 2016 and 2017 had six-digit serial numbers that started with 4 on their monster boxes.
Finally, for the Philadelphia Mint coins, those from 2015 used five-digit numbers on their boxes that started with 1, and those from 2016 and 2017 had six-digit numbers on them that started with a 5 on their monster boxes.
For the period since then, we know that in 2020 an emergency run of 240,000 coins were made in San Francisco when the West Point Mint was closed due to COVID-19, and a million were made in San Francisco in April.
We also know that in 2021, when the Mint made both Type 1 coins of the original reverse type and the new Type 2, production was again split between the three branches. A million of each type was made in San Francisco, and 495,500 were produced in Philadelphia.
And a special run of 200,000 of the final coins struck of the old design was made at West Point, plus 200,000 coins of the new reverse design.
The grading services continue to indicate on labels, for Silver Eagles submitted in their monster boxes, which branch mint struck the coin using a mint mark in parentheses.